Internal Controls:

Program to Address Problem Meat and Poultry Plants Needs Improvement

RCED-89-55: Published: Mar 31, 1989. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 1989.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO assessed the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) Intensified Regulatory Enforcement (IRE) Program at 10 meat and poultry plants.

GAO found that: (1) although FSIS has instituted IRE at 42 plants nationwide since 1984, the program has only been partially successful; (2) 24 plants improved their operations and graduated from the program, 1 plant went bankrupt, 7 plants were removed from the program permanently, and 4 plants changed ownership; (3) 24 plants that graduated from IRE improved their conditions within 1 year, while 7 plants were under IRE for less than 1 year; and (4) 7 of the 10 plants that graduated from IRE violated health, safety, and product standards at unacceptable levels, and 1 plant reentered the program for the second time. GAO also found that FSIS: (1) records showed that some graduating plants had sanitary problems, excessive levels of antibiotics and animal residue in livestock, and experienced higher cattle condemnation rates than the national average; (2) lacked adequate systems to monitor plants that graduated from IRE, and failed to take action against plants with recurring problems; (3) failed to ensure that all meat and poultry plants were identified and considered for IRE because of an inadequate survey methodology; and (4) relied on the plants' internal inspectors and field supervisors to identify problem plants for IRE.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure the long-term effectiveness of the IRE program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to improve the IRE program by developing and implementing: (1) criteria for placing plants in the program; and (2) a data information system based on these criteria that profiles all plants inspected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working on a stronger automated information system to track plant performance. This work will take several years. Until that time, USDA will use its directive which contains instructions for manually entering and removing plants from the program. Action will close after June 1991.

    Recommendation: To ensure the long-term effectiveness of the IRE program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to improve the IRE program by developing and implementing a special monitoring system for plants taken off IRE so that these plants are monitored to determine if they again become problem plants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has implemented an expanded monitoring program which calls for additional follow-up reviews to determine if the plants have again become problem plants.

    Recommendation: To ensure the long-term effectiveness of the IRE program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to improve the IRE program by taking such actions as entering into stipulation and consent orders and reinstating plants in the IRE program, or withdrawing inspections at plants that become problem plants after being taken off IRE.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 1991, FSIS established a progressive enforcement program for problem plants. This enforcement program will address varying levels and terms of plant noncompliance and, when necessary, apply enforcement actions.

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